“A Psalm Of Asaph.” He was a great singer, but he could not always sing. In the first part of the Psalm he felt rather like groaning than singing; and you shall find that those who sing the sweetest the praises of God sometimes have to hang their harps upon the willows, and are silent. The strong temptation through which Asaph passed is one which is very common. You find another account of it in the 37th Psalm. It may help your memory to notice that it is the 37th and the 73rd Psalm (transpose the figures) which are both upon the same subject—the temptation caused to the people of God by the prosperity of the wicked.
Psalms 73:1. Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.
It must be so. Whatever argument my son may hold about it, I will set that down, to begin with, as a certainty—“Truly, God is good to Israel.” He cannot be unkind or unfaithful to his own people. It cannot be possible, after all—however things may look—that God is an ill-God and an ill-Master to his own servants.
Psalms 73:2. But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh dipped. Am I, then, one of his people or not? I know he is good to them; but how about myself? Perhaps some here will never question themselves in that way, and if they were led to do so, they would think it was of the devil. I do not think so. I think it is rather of the devil to keep us from questioning ourselves. I remember what Cowper said:—
“He that hath never doubted of his state,
He may—perhaps he may too late.”
Let us delight in full assurance, but let us keep very clear of presumption; and that assurance which cannot bear self-examination is presumption, depend upon it. When a man declines to search himself and test himself, there is something doubtful, if not rotten in his estate; and it is time he did begin to say, “As for me, my feet were almost gone: my steps had well nigh slipped.” This is how it came about:—
Psalms 73:3. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. I know that wicked men are fools.
Asaph and David had often said that before. Yet says he, “I was a greater fool, still, that I was envious of these fools—when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
Psalms 73:4-5. For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.
Many of them keep up a hypocritical profession through a long life, and die in a stupefaction, so that conscience never awakens, and they pass out of the world loaded with guilt, and yet talk about being accepted before God. How can this be? Where is the justice of it?
Psalms 73:6. Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain;
As kings wear chains of gold, so is their pride to them.
Psalms 73:6. Violence covereth them as a garment,
They are not ashamed of it. They get to be so bold in sin that they wear it as an outside cloak.
Psalms 73:7. Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish.
Superfluities. They never have to ask where a meal will come from. They have more than they want.
Psalms 73:8-9. They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens,
Such big mouths—such blasphemous words—have they, that they attack God himself. There is nothing too high for them to drag it down—nothing too pure for them to slander. “They set their mouth against the heavens.”
Psalms 73:9. And their tongue walketh through the earth.
Like the lion seeking its prey, they take long walks in their slander. Nobody is safe from them.
Psalms 73:10-11. Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?
God’s sorrowing children have to drink of the bitter cup, while these proud ones are eating of the fat of the land.
Psalms 73:12-14. Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.
When Asaph got into this unbelieving state of mind, it did look as if all his care of his character and all his desire to serve God was wasted, for the wicked prospered, while he was chastened. It is a strong description which he gives of his state. “All the day long have I been plagued.” Not by the half-hour, but by the whole day, plagued, and weeping as soon as he was out of bed—chastened every morning. He seemed almost to be sorry that he was a child of God, to be so roughly handled. He almost, but not quite, wished that he could take the portion of the wicked, that he might enjoy himself as they did, and might prosper in the world as they did.
Psalms 73:15. If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children.
That was very wise of Asaph. He thought but he did not speak. Some persons say, “You may as well out with it.” You may as well keep it in; nay, a great deal better. If you have it in your own heart, it will grieve yourself, but if you speak it out, you will grieve others. If you wear sackcloth, brethren, wear it round your own loins, but do not wear it as your outside garment. There is enough sackcloth in the world without your flaunting it before everybody else’s face. If you must fast, remember your Master’s words, “Thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast.” He gave us that precept in order to avoid pharisaic ostentation; but we may also follow it from another motive, namely, that we may not spread sorrow in the world. There is enough of depression of spirit, enough of despondency, enough of heartbreak, without our saying a word to increase it among the sons of men.
“Bear and forbear, and silent be:
Tell no man thy misery,”
Lest thou bring another into it, unless, indeed, thou meet with a strong man who can help thee. Then thou mayest tell thy sorrow to get relief. But tell it not to the children.
Psalms 73:16. When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me.
“Too painful” to keep it: “too painful” to speak it out and grieve other people.
Psalms 73:17. Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood their end.
Asaph went to his God. He got to Christ, whom he foresaw, for the person of Jesus Christ is the sanctuary of God. Some people call these buildings sanctuaries. They have no authority for so doing. “God dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” He may have done so under the old covenant, but not now. Christ is the sanctuary of God, and when we get to him and come into fellowship with God in him, then we begin to learn something. “Then understood I their end.”
Psalms 73:18. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places:
There they are—on a mountain of ice, bright and glittering: up aloft, where others see, admire, and wonder at them. But oh! how dangerous their pathway!
Psalms 73:18. Thou casteth them down into destruction.
They are not left to slip, but a hand overthrows them—flings them down from the heights of their prosperity to the depths of unutterable woe.
Psalms 73:19-20. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.
As if God slept today, and let these images of prosperity exist as in a dream; but by-and-by he wakes. His time of judgment comes, and where are these prosperous men? They have gone. The “baseless fabric of a vision” has melted into thin air, and “left not a wreck behind.” It is not. It is gone.
Psalms 73:21. Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.
I felt a heart-pain. I felt my whole nature go amiss, as if there had been calculi causing the deepest possible misery in my reins.
Psalms 73:22. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.
I saw no farther than a goose. Like a beast that cannot look into the future, I judged these men by today—by the pastures in which they fed, and the fatness which they gathered there. “I was as a beast before thee.” Now notice the splendid connection of these two verses. I will read them again—the 22nd and the 23rd. “So foolish was I and ignorant, I was as a beast before thee.”
Psalms 73:23. Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.
What a strange mixture a man is! And a godly man is the strangest conglomerate of all. He is a beast, and yet continually with God. View him from one side, he is ignorant: view him from the other, and he hath an unction from the Holy One, and he knows all things. View him from one point of the compass, and he is naked, and poor, and miserable: view him from another quarter, and behold he is complete in Christ and “accepted in the Beloved. “ They know not man who do not know that every true man is two men.
Psalms 73:24. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
I, the fool that envied fools, yet “thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.”
Psalms 73:25. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
Now he has got out of the temptation. He is not going to seek for prosperity that he may rival the wicked in their wealth. No! He sees that, in having God, he has all he wants. Even though he should continually be plagued all the day long, and chastened every morning, his portion in God is quite enough for him. He will not murmur any more.
Psalms 73:26. My flesh and my heart faileth:
I see what a poor thing I am. I allowed my flesh and my heart to get the mastery over me, and I got caught in this trap.
Psalms 73:26-27. But God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.
A strong word, but none too forcible; for every heart that seeks delight away from God is an unchaste heart. It has got away from true purity even for a moment in pouring out its love upon the creature.
Psalms 73:28. But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.
This exposition consisted of readings from Psalms 73; Psalms 37:1-10.